New legislation would reduce toxic heavy metals in baby food

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From conception to age 2, babies’ brains are extremely sensitive to nerve chemicals, said Jane Houlihan, national director of science and health for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a coalition of advocates committed to reducing exposure of babies to nerve chemicals.

The bill, called the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, is expected to be submitted to Congress on Friday. She is the offspring of Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Democratic Representative Tony Cárdenas of California.

“Heavy metals are poisons for these beautiful little brains,” Cárdenas said at a press briefing Thursday. “They rob our children of the ability to think, they rob our children of their ability to develop to their full potential, and these are things that shouldn’t be happening, not in the United States of America.”

Much lower limits on heavy metals

If adopted, the bill impose strict requirements on baby food manufacturers to regularly test and verify that their foods are under new low limits for the four heavy metals: no more than 10 parts per billion inorganic arsenic, 5 parts per billion cadmium or of lead and 2 parts per billion of mercury.

Grain products, however, could contain 15 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic and 10 parts per billion of cadmium and lead.

The new legislation would then require the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to lower levels even further within two years, put regulations in place within three years, and then review regulatory limits every five years for determine if they “should be lowered further.”

The secretary could also recall foods for infants and toddlers – defined as up to 36 months – if it is determined to contain toxic heavy metals above the new regulatory limits.

Since many of these metals are found in the soil in which crops are grown, the bill also allocates $ 50 million to the National Academy of Sciences to research agricultural ways to minimize heavy metals. In addition, the bill would also require the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement a campaign to educate parents and others about the dangers of heavy metals.

Baby food manufacturers also be required to “make available to the public on a web page a semi-annual report summarizing the results of the monitoring… with regard to these facilities and infant and toddler foods”, in accordance with the proposed legislation.

The response to the bill by advocacy groups has been positive.

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“Right now it’s the food companies, not the FDA, that decide if our food is safe. It’s ridiculous,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, an organization nonprofit for the protection of the environment and consumers. , in a report.

“Thanks to the Baby Food Safety Act, food companies will finally have to meet strict standards that will protect our families,” said Faber.

“It’s not just a law. It’s a solution to a problem parents can’t solve without government help,” Charlotte Brody, national director of Healthy Babies Bright Futures, said in a statement.

Healthy Babies Bright Futures published a report in 2019 that found toxic metals in 95% of baby foods randomly pulled from supermarket shelves and tested.

“Shocking” evidence

The United States Food and Drug Administration has not yet set minimum levels of heavy metals in most infant foods. The agency set a standard of 100 parts per billion inorganic arsenic for infant rice cereals, but even that level is considered far too high for the safety of babies, critics say, especially since the FDA had previously set a much lower standard of 10 parts per billion. of inorganic arsenic for bottled water.
Using internal company documents, a House Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittee investigation released in February found levels of heavy metals in baby food well above set limits for bottled water by the FDA and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The spreadsheets provided by the manufacturers were “shocking” because they showed evidence that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals, said Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Economic Policy and Subcommittee. of consumers, who conducted the investigation.

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“Yet we know that in many cases we should not have anything more than single digit parts per billion of any of these metals in any of our foods,” Krishnamoorthi told CNN during the publication of the report in early February.

The documents showed that the ingredients in some baby foods contained up to 91 times the level of inorganic arsenic, up to 177 times the level of lead, up to 69 times the level of cadmium, and up to five times the level of lead. level of mercury allowed in bottled water, according to the report, companies have still approved the sale of these products.

It didn’t matter whether the baby food was organic or not, the subcommittee found that the levels of toxic metals were still high.

What to do

Until the law is passed and regulatory requirements are in place, parents can take steps to reduce their child’s exposure to heavy metals.

Start with the most contaminated. Topping the Healthy Babies Bright Futures list: rice cereal, rice-based cabbage, rice-based snacks, and rice crackers or teething cookies. Eliminate these foods completely or rarely give them these foods, healthy babies suggested report.

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There are also better choices for toddler snacks than the rice puffs or even the ubiquitous round cereal so often given as finger foods, which was on Healthy Babies’ nerve poison list.

“We recommend other snacks like apples and bananas, cheese, grapes, peaches and yogurt,” Houlihan told CNN in a previous interview.

Feed a variety of foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding babies a variety of healthy foods. Focusing on one food at a time is one of the reasons that exposures add up dangerously for infants.

Avoid juices. Apple, grape and other juices are an important source of heavy metals for children, not because the levels are as high as rice products, Houlihan said, but because children drink a lot of the juice. .

By replacing juice with tap water, Houlihan said, a parent can reduce a child’s exposure to toxic metals by 68%.

Prepare carefully. Carrots and sweet potatoes are on the list of the most contaminated foods, according to the Healthy Babies report. By replacing these with a variety of vegetables, a parent can reduce the risk to their baby by 73%, according to the analysis.


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